Richard Haywood has come a long way since his days as a PhD student at Aston University, and his career so far has been nothing if not varied. But if there’s one consistent storyline on Richard’s CV over the 13 years, it's his commitment and contribution to Ocado Group — a brand that is changing the way the world shops through its pioneering use of technology and automation.
A lofty ambition, certainly, but not an unreasonable one considering the way the company has reshaped grocery shopping – launching the world’s first pureplay grocery retailing website in the UK just over 20 years ago. Fast forward to today, where the Ocado Smart Platform enables online grocery fulfillment for eleven of the world’s most forward-thinking retailers.
Richard's part in this success story began in 2009 when he joined Ocado Technology as a software engineer. Having just completed a Ph.D. in electronic engineering after gaining a first-class degree in internet engineering, Richard was well qualified to work on business-critical systems and software in such a ground-breaking company.
From the start, it was both exciting and challenging, he says. "Grocery ecommerce is one of the most difficult retail segments to operate profitably online," he explains. "This is due to the huge complexity of shopping baskets that might contain more than 50 items, the varying temperature conditions affecting food, the need to deliver products at a set time, and the need to ensure smooth and secure online transactions."
Richard adds that there are tens of thousands of products with different storage conditions, from room temperature to frozen, and unlike other deliveries, you can't leave groceries on someone's doorstep for hours on end. Given the challenges, little wonder that many people said ocado.com would fail because a business model built on making online delivery of fresh food profitable could never thrive.
How wrong they were. Richard's progress and widening remit at Ocado mirror the brand's growing strength – now operating more as a global B2B than the original B2C model. It's clear that Richard has stayed loyal all these years because he saw Ocado had a bright future and was serving a pressing need. As Richard puts it, "We make the lives of millions of customers around the world easier and create highly personalized shopping experiences."
After four years in software development, Richard moved into various senior roles such as IT team leader, head of center in Sofia, and head of retail systems in Barcelona. The transfer to Barcelona led to Richard's current position as head of engineering for ecommerce customers and payments, and he admits that the switch to payments was a testing change of direction.
"It was a case of being thrown in at the deep end," he says. "My first experience of payments was when I joined the ecommerce team in Barcelona, and it has been very demanding but also rewarding. I'm working with some of the world's largest grocery retailers, ensuring that our platform can operate smoothly across all their locations, handle different currencies and safely integrate the payment partners of their choice."
Richard says he heads the engineering function in the ecommerce team, leading the customer and payments departments as they develop all the "cool and diverse products that enable people to purchase groceries online." For example, machine learning to help populate a basket with one click, or issue reminders for products you might have run out of. As for payments, he says Ocado Technology is building "secure, resilient, scalable platforms and software integrations with payments providers who can deliver smooth transactions."
The Ocado Smart Platform is the foundation of sustainable, scalable and profitable online grocery. Developed from the ground up, it's revolutionized the grocery space for retailers worldwide. "The Ocado Smart Platform is the world's most advanced end-to-end ecommerce and fulfillment platform," says Richard. "It optimizes the entire online grocery delivery and payment process, from order placement up to the last mile. The customer and payments function is an integral part of the platform."
Richard says the platform promotes seamless connectivity and that Ocado Technology's backend and frontend software engineers work closely with the company's data scientists, product developers and user experience teams. He emphasizes that creative collaboration is hugely important in making the platform intuitive, building knowledge of customer shopping habits, favorite products and payment preferences.
This organizational efficiency is close to Richard's heart. He firmly believes that having teams with the right blend of talent, and the best leadership strategies and styles, is the formula for business success. The caliber of leadership is a defining factor for success, he stresses.
Richard has been a keen observer of team dynamics and leadership skills in his various roles with Ocado, both in the UK and mainland Europe. He knows the approaches that work and those that don't, and he brings this experience and knowledge to bear in his current ecommerce and payments role.
"My definition of a great leader is someone who helps others succeed," says Richard. He means that effective leaders will guide and support more than just their immediate reports. For Richard, leadership is not only multi-dimensional; it's also multi-level. It's an art where you help everyone in the organization regardless of their level — because collective success is what truly counts.
He acknowledges that close cooperation has been difficult with the pandemic's effect on traditional work patterns and normal social and cultural bonds. "The challenge has been to coordinate and integrate teams when we've been forced to keep our distance," says Richard. "With the emerging hybrid model, we must find ways to engage teams beyond purely transactional online meetings."
Richard says a typical day would involve plenty of team meetings, reflecting the value he places on team spirit and collaboration. And in heading the customer and payments teams in Barcelona, he follows the leadership principles that he says are the bedrock for success. "We have regular product and engineering meetings throughout the week," he says. "We check work status and resolve any issues, and we hold quarterly team progress reviews."
The same collaborative approach extends across the payment ecosystem. Richard says that many of Ocado's payments partners have significant experience in brick-and-mortar retail. Combining this with Ocado's experience in online shopping creates a powerful proposition for retailers.
"They can adapt our platform to their individual needs, in their respective markets," he says. "Our platform supports multiple payment service providers, allowing retail partners to use the one that best serves their needs."
Richard is very conscious of the need to stay abreast of evolving standards and remain compliant when it comes to regulations. "The introduction of PSD2 meant we had to refine our platform to accommodate the latest payment practices and regulations," he says. "This is another aspect of collaboration, as we've been working closely with our payment partners and are mindful that payment changes should not negatively impact retailers and shoppers."
How does Richard see the future as we emerge from the pandemic, which has seen a seismic shift to online shopping? Will this retail transformation be permanent? "Research shows that many customers who moved to online grocery shopping will continue to buy online," he says. This is good for Ocado and good for Richard as a dedicated leader in one of the world's most innovative online brands.